Intrepid Scots feel they can hurt fragile Australians

SCOTLAND'S cricketers depart for the ICC World Cup on Monday prepared to take on anyone, according to their head coach, Peter Drinnen. The Scots must play South Africa and Australia, the world Nos 1 and 2, as well as the Netherlands in the group phase, but Drinnen said yesterday that the calibre of the opposition would not intimidate his 15-strong squad.

"In the one day game anything can happen, and if we get it together we are going to be very dangerous, even against Australia," said the coach, himself an Australian. "We have a game plan and hopefully we can stick to it.

"Our preparation couldn't have gone much better and I'm really happy with what we've got going on. All 15 players are good cricketers and can all do a job.

"We don't fear anyone at this World Cup - the last month's fixtures in one day cricket all over the world have been interesting to say the least, and we won't be losing any sleep over playing the world champions. We aren't going to the Caribbean to play exhibition cricket.

"Yes, we will be massive underdogs in the most difficult group, but I'm confident we will justify our place with the elite, and who knows what we could do? Nobody is getting carried away here and we know we've got jobs to do and we will be giving it everything to cause a shock."

Scotland are currently ranked 12th - the most highly placed of the associate countries, as the second tier of the international game is known. Craig Wright, the captain, believes that, rather than simply maintaining that position, his squad - and possibly others - can shake up the world order in the tournament in the West Indies.

"I fully believe one or two associate teams will win games," Wright said. "I've no doubt either ourselves or two or three other teams can knock over one or two of the top ten. It can happen, it has happened before, and it's vitally important it happens again."

Wright was speaking as Sport Scotland announced an annual grant to Cricket Scotland of 336,300, an increase of just over 25,000 from last year. That funding includes, for the first time, direct financial support for every squad member. But, while welcome, it still falls well short of the amount required for the national side to go full-time - there are only two full-timers in the present squad - and it will be close to impossible for Scotland to establish themselves in the top ten without being a completely professional squad.

"Over the last few years we set the objective of getting to the top ranking in the associate sphere, and now we've done that it's vitally important we raise the bar," Wright said. "Our next target should be to shoot for a place in the top ten. Certain things will have to happen before that becomes a possibility, but [we can't just say] we want to consolidate our position as top of the associates."

Nonetheless, Wright knows there could be no better way of attracting new sponsors than by beating one of the big guns his team has been drawn against. "If we can do something special against Australia or South Africa, the ramifications, the fall-out, would be spectacular in terms of gaining extra credibility and raising the profile of the sport in this country," he continued.

"The way I like to treat it, and the other players and the coach treat it as well, is not to worry too much about who you're playing against. You can focus too much on the opposition. So we try and focus on playing as well as we possibly can ourselves. Yes, we'll speak about Australia, and about things we can maybe do to nullify one or two of their players, but by and large we'll focus on our own game."

Yet, just as he will aim not to be overawed by those who take the field for the Australians, so Wright will not seek too much encouragement from the absence of several of their leading players through injury. "Australia is a fantastic cricketing country, and as, has been said over the years, they could probably field two or three teams who would beat most of the other teams in world cricket. They've got one or two of their big names out, but the players who are coming in to replace them are fantastic players as well."

Given those absences, however, and the wobbly form shown recently by Australia, Wright believes the outcome of the tournament is far from a foregone conclusion.

"I actually think it's a really open competition. The way the conditions are in the Caribbean right now in terms of the wickets being quite slow and fairly sub-continent, actually might bring the sub-continent teams into the equation.

"The likes of India with their batting line-up, Pakistan on their day can be a wonderful team, Sri Lanka could be a good outside bet... With Australia going through a little wobble and missing one or two of their top players, it really is open. If Australia were at full strength and playing as they normally do, you'd say they would be the favourites, as they always are, but I really think it may be any one of five or six teams that could win."

Scotland have warm-up matches against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh early next month before the World Cup gets under way on 11 March.

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